Starts & Stops

These four Boston suburbs will try to improve local bus service

An MBTA bus drove on a dedicated lane converted from parking spaces on one side of Broadway in Everett during a one-week trial in December 2016.
Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe/File
An MBTA bus drove on a dedicated lane converted from parking spaces on one side of Broadway in Everett during a one-week trial in December 2016.

Four Boston suburbs will receive grants from a prominent philanthropy to explore ways to improve bus service on crowded streets.

The Barr Foundation, a Boston philanthropy with a strong environmental agenda, awarded grants totaling $300,000 Tuesday to Arlington, Everett, and a joint partnership of Watertown and Cambridge. The municipalities will test ideas like bus-only lanes and traffic signals that give buses priority at busy intersections.

According to the foundation, Arlington will use the money for its one-month test to improve service on Massachusetts Avenue during the morning rush, which could include a bus-only lane. Cambridge and Watertown are planning to create all-day bus lanes on parts of Mount Auburn Street. And Everett, which already sacrificed a lane of parking for bus-only traffic in 2016, plans to make two stops on that route easier to access for wheelchairs and strollers.


All four communities also plan to test “transit signal prioritization” on these routes, technology that lengthens green lights and shortens red lights depending on how near or far a bus is from an intersection.

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Barr said the grants will pay for the communities to coordinate with the MBTA and design and implement the trials, and some of the funds can also be used for the traffic signal work.

The MBTA has prioritized improving bus service, which carries hundreds of thousands of passengers each day but has the lowest on-time performance of the major transit services. In October, T buses were on-time only about 65 percent of the time. Some strategies are entirely within the T’s control, such as adjusting schedules and routes, or shaving time off the boarding process by eliminating the use of cash and allowing passengers to board through more doors.

But since buses run on municipal roads, the agency needs help from communities that may be hesitant to improve the roads for transit riders at the expense of motorists. T officials have increasingly urged city leaders, including in Boston, to help.

Boston is planning to test a morning bus lane on Washington Street between Roslindale and Forest Hills, though some critics have said the city is moving too slowly to launch it. In an interview with WGBH last week, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the city will move forward with the plan, but noted, “when there’s no parking we’ll see how that works out.”

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.